Two former school district superintendents and longtime educators are competing in Tuesday’s municipal election to head Wisconsin’s public education system.
On the ballot for state superintendent are two-term incumbent Tony Evers and former Beloit and Whitnall superintendent Lowell Holtz.
Evers told The Daily Cardinal that, if re-elected, his first priority would be to work with the state Legislature to get adequate funding throughout the state, especially in the area of mental health care. Schools should have more professional development for teachers and additional resources to hire social workers, he said.
“One in five people suffer from mental health issues, and we need to address that,” Evers said.
Evers said his opposition to expanding private school voucher programs is the defining difference between his and Holtz’s platform. Any expansion of voucher schools should not be at the cost of public schools, he said, and should be held to accountability standards.
Evers said he’ll also focus on narrowing graduation and achievement gaps in the state—which are among the worst in the nation for racial disparity, according to a Center on Wisconsin Strategy study released earlier this year.
“We’ve been working on this for decades, frankly,” Evers said. “To say we’ve done nothing is a lie. In turn, we look forward to moving forward to make sure all kids at school have access to academic preparation, as well as nutritional and health services.”
His most recent project, he said, has been working to remove the barriers that exist in Milwaukee’s public schools by advocating for after-school programming and introducing a new curriculum that sets high expectations for all children.
Holtz, on the other hand, told the Cardinal his first priority would be stopping the state’s “decline to the bottom.” He noted the graduation and achievement gaps in Wisconsin and said narrowing the rift starts with making sure schools have safe hallways and classrooms.
“We have schools in the Milwaukee area that have a dozen fights every day,” Holtz said. “Kids aren’t thinking about class—they’re thinking about what’s going to happen in the hall.”
Holtz also supports the expansion of voucher schools, which he said avoids a tough decision for parents.
“We have some of the best schools in the nation in Milwaukee, but ten blocks away we have some of the worst schools in the nation,” Holtz said. “We don’t want to force parents to make that choice.”
He said allowing voucher schools to expand also ensures public education is held to high standards.
“As a superintendent myself, I have no problems with competition,” Holtz said. “The only reason they’ll send they’re kid away from a public school is if they’re failing.”
Less than a week before the February primary, Holtz told the Wisconsin State Journal that he was planning to collaborate to beat Evers with former candidate John Humphries. The two agreed Humphries would drop out of the race in exchange for a $150,000 contract with position benefits, including a driver, at the Department of Public Instruction.
Holtz said the job offer deal should not be of focus for voters, calling a television advertisement produced by Evers’ campaign that highlights the incident an example of “politics of personal destruction.”
“The truth of the matter is there’s not a lot of truth to it,” Holtz said. “They do attack ads to take the pressure off of their failed records. I don’t claim to walk on water, but I do claim to be the most passionate advocate for students in Wisconsin.”
Evers, however, stands firm in his position that the incident should be noted when voters hit the polls.
“The person that holds this position must be someone who has integrity,” Evers said. “Most Wisconsin voters don’t find a lot of integrity in people who are running for office and are talking about who’s going to get a chauffeur and a position if they win. That’s not how policy should work.”
The municipal election is Tuesday.